I bought myself a golden chenille blanket at a time when I needed some pampering. While strolling through a mall, I took an impromptu detour into Pottery Barn, shushing the voice inside my head that piped up to remind me of all the money I owed for violin and tennis lessons for my two growing sons.
The blanket hung over a gleaming oak bedpost. I handed over my credit card to a girl who scarcely looked old enough to be legally employed. She wrapped my purchase in tissue paper and tied it with a gold ribbon.
That was just four months before I was slated for brain surgery. A siege of migraines had led to the scan that revealed a tumor the size of a Ping-Pong ball, which my doctor deemed benign. This was good news, but the tumor still had to be removed. Fortunately, I could put off the operation for a year while I struggled to finish a book I was writing (ironically titled The Mommy Brain). Not so fortunately, the delay gave me 365 extra sleepless nights to prowl the Internet and obsess over every possible mishap that might occur, up to and including a major earthquake and power outage in the middle of surgery, from which, needless to say, I would never recover.
After roughly the first hundred nights I discovered that focusing on breathing helped me calm down enough to sleep. The hard part was keeping still long enough to do it, since I'm fidgety and impatient by nature. Bought on impulse, the blanket soon became my prop: From the first time I draped it over my head and shoulders to sit on my bed in silence before lying down, it felt like trying on serenity -- a soft and warm, if unfamiliar, costume.
Why unfamiliar? In addition to my natural restlessness, I have two unusually high-spirited sons, who at the time were 11 and 8. The activities they liked best, judging from how often they did them, were fighting with each other, playing video games until I pulled out the TV cord, and nagging me for the very things I couldn't give them -- a family trip to Fiji, a Karelian bear dog (a breed that not only needs large areas to roam but also sheds a lot and is famous for being aggressive toward other dogs), and my undivided attention.
As with most kids, my boys' little empathy muscles were still in development. One afternoon, when my headache was bad enough to send me to bed, my 11-year-old kept popping in to ask me to play a game with him. He first suggested Monopoly, then Uno. Even murmuring my regrets seemed to tighten the claw inside my head.
"You can just sit there with the cards in your hand," he pleaded, as I struggled to focus an eye on him. Finally his tone turned stern. "Mom, I'm really disappointed in you," he said as he stomped out. I braced for the slam of the door and buried my face in the forgiving chenille.